Sidney O. “Sid” Dewberry, co-founder of Fairfax, Va.-based engineer Dewberry, advocate for higher education and renowned for his business leadership and civic engagement, died July 16 in Arlington, Va. at age 94.
Dewberry and engineer Jim Nealon founded the firm that now bears his family name in 1956, says the company. The two were joined by Richard Davis in 1958, and the firm grew over the next few years to establish its headquarters in Fairfax in 1965.
Dewberry today has more than 2,000 employees in 50 locations nationwide, ranking at No. 36 on ENR’s 2022 Top 500 Design Firms, with $488 million in total revenue.
Dewberry strove for market diversity in the business from the very beginning, after starting the business during a recession and hustling to get work, chief communications officer Molly Johnson says.
J. Hamilton Lambert, former Fairfax County manager and now executive director of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, met Dewberry more than 60 years ago, as he was beginning to grow his company.
Lambert awarded Dewberry the sole-source contract for the Dulles Toll Road, the access road to Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, something he says made other competitors “ballistic.”
But, Dewberry had a leg up, Lambert says, because the year before the engineer had aerial photography done of the area independently and promised to deliver the plans in six-to-eight months, which he did.
According to The Dewberry Way, a company history, Dewberry calls the project “a major breakthrough” and says the firm dedicated an entire floor of its headquarters to project work, completing the design in six months. Dewberry was among the first to drive the new road when it opened in 1984, accompanying then-Gov. Charles Robb at the ribbon-cutting.
The fast-tracked design of the Dulles Toll Road is listed in the book among Dewberry’s proudest accomplishments, as is the design of the iconic Filene Center outdoor amphitheater at Wolf Trap National Park for Performing Arts in Vienna, Va. after the original building was destroyed by a fire.
Lambert continued to work with Dewberry when he moved to the private sector, and the firm has been the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation's main engineer. “I think he was very easy to work with,” Lambert says. “I’m not an engineer, and he could explain things quite plainly. He was always looking to improve the quality of his company and his work. The critical thing about Sid was he was always true to his word and an unselfish human being. I consider him one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”
Johnson, a 17-year company veteran, worked with Dewberry on the second edition of The Dewberry Way. “Even up to this year, he was always somebody who was very curious about the details behind what you might be working on,” she says. “He was so incredibly sharp and on top of trends.”
Dewberry never retired, says Johnson, becoming chairman emeritus when he passed the executive chairmanship to son Barry Dewberry in 2012 and continuing to participate in executive committee meetings and board of directors meetings.
Daughter Karen Grand Pre and youngest son Thomas Dewberry currently serve on the board while grandson Michael Sidney Dewberry II, is an engineer at company headquarters.
Johnson says Dewberry "really cared about making an impact on communities ... and seeing how we can help transform them and make them better places.”
'A Great Citizen, A Great Man'
That’s especially true for George Mason University, where Johnson says Dewberry’s impact, including donations to its civil engineering and music schools has helped it become a world-class institution.
According to the company, Dewberry was a founding member of the university’s Civil Engineering Institute, and its Dept. of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering is named after him and wife Reva.
“He was a very giving man—he came from a very poor family,” Lambert says. “He pulled himself up from his bootstraps and became one of the leaders in the region.”
Dewberry's long list of awards includes the Virginia Economic Bridge Initiative Leadership Award, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce Captain of Industry Award and James Reese Award for Lifetime Achievement, says the firm. He also received an honorary doctorate from Old Dominion University and was presented with the George Mason University Mason Award.
“He did a lot for the engineering profession,” Lambert says, including reaching out and helping other engineering firms. "He was a leader without peer."
Dewberry co-authored the Land Development Handbook, currently in its fourth edition, says the company, and was a founding member of the Engineers & Surveyors Institute.
To Lambert, Dewberry was a man who remembered where he came from and how fortunate he had been, and who was willing to step forward and help others.
"God bless him, he was fortunate enough to change and improve not only other peoples' lives but the region," Lambert says. "He was a great citizen and a great man."